The abject failure of communicational h…

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The architect of a failure
The architect of a failure

There is no doubt that communicational hegemony is a reality. Most TV stations toe the government line, as do most radio stations. Newspapers are not far behind, as I write in my latest piece for Foreign Policy.

Still, I can’t help but be skeptical about the size of the threat posed by the hegemon.

What have they achieved with all of this? Little to nothing.

If communicational hegemony were effective in terms of its goal – controling the information the public receives – we wouldn’t know …

  • that students at Unimet closed off the highway a few days ago
  • that Humboldt University students shut off Av. Andrés Bello last night
  • that Nicolás Maduro was jeered by a full stadium in Margarita a few days ago
  • that people protesting against the Cuban baseball team got thrown in jail arbitrarily
  • that the opposition marched all over the country this past Sunday
  • that there is another march scheduled for February 12th
  • that there is a serious tiff between Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles
  • that we’ve run out of dollars
  • that conflicts among key players in the government prevented yesterday’s currency auction from taking place
  • that the guy in charge of administering the loans from China is the son of the Venezuelan Ambassador TO China, and
  • that Chávez’s daughters have become trashier versions of Kato Kaelin – guests that just won’t leave.

Mind you, these are just the last few days’ worth of news. Hegemony or not, the information is out there for anyone to obtain it – at least as long as newspapers don’t croak.

Are there things we don’t know? Absolutely, just like there were before Maduro. Is there censorhip? Yes. But people in Caracas can still get around it – just ask Alek! The bottom line is that information doesn’t flow unfettered, but we’re not North Korea yet.

I realize information has become more difficult to obtain, but in a lot of ways, it has become more available than ever before. Communicational hegemony is a fact of Maduro’s Venezuela, but is it really a problem?

I wonder. If the goal of communicational hegemony was simply to own media outlets, then sure, they win – chavistas are really good at buying and taking over stuff. But the stated goal was to control information. To me, like everything chavismo does, communicational hegemony is just another colossal screw-up.

39 COMMENTS

  1. That seems to be true for cities, but in small towns where you might not have reliable access to internet (or people simply don’t own computers and smartphones), I’d say their hegemony is successful. Also, lets keep in mind that are precisely these places where the opposition has no penetration…

    • I agree with exp, I know about those news and most people in my workplace do, but I wonder if Jormancy Perez from San Jose de Tiznados knows about it, probably he doesn’t care about what happens in a city anyway, people like him help the goverment obtain those ridicolous majorities in congress seats and in numbers of mayors. Tv stations like vtv, tves and venevision are the only stuff they can get for free.

      • It might be also the case that most people, regardless of where they are, are barely interested in the day-to-day politics. Therefore, unless the information is right there as you change TV channels (it is not nowadays), some people won’t realize there’s going to be a rally on Feb 12th for example.

        My point: the info is out there, but it takes effort to find it as opposed to a place like the US where sometimes it feels you can’t escape BREAKING NEWS

  2. I think exp above is right. In Caracas it may seem like a list cause, but in the “interior” most people just hears what the gov tells them as there is very little oppo presence.

  3. It depends. Is there a full hegemony? Of course not. Just because of the reasons you pointed out. However, they do have an advantage in the media and control many things. It’s not that their hegemony is a failure, but that they don’t want to fully control everything in the blink of an eye. Everything is progressive. Years ago, we didn’t have this kind of hegemony (though many people feared it would come), but you see how everything has changed. Government media is as chavista as ever, pulling shameless pro-Chavez propaganda that has become a full blown cult of personality almost every second; while opposition media is now scarce, and more “moderate”. Last year, some guy at Reddit’s /r/politics asked me in a mocking tone, that how is it that Venezuelans have been brainwashed by the media considering the government doesn’t have an hegemony in the media. I just laughed out loud.

  4. It is impossible to win an election if you are not regularly on tv. That is the purpose of the hegemony, not some series of facts.

  5. The hegemony has been successful in some aspects (suppresing dissident voices, establishing self-censroship and diminishing public sphere overall) but in others (imposing an ideological agenda, replacing cultural trends, keep unfavorable public issues out of sight) has been a failure.

    Let me put it this way: The repressive side of the hegemony has won, but the proponent side (the one who offers and pushes the alternative to the things been repressed) has lost.

      • I think they do. Continuous erosion.

        This isn’t Cuba in the ’50s and ’60s where will could be arbitrarily imposed because of technological limitations. We are talking BlackberryWorld writ large where information is, more or less, instantaneously disseminated.

        Control the channels, then control the distribution, then control the media dispensed and all that’s left will eventually be the internet. And that is wholly within their control as evidenced by the bitly fiasco.

        It doesn’t have to be right the first time. It doesn’t have to be right now. It just has to be right in the future. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have the time needed to do so.

        As several people have already commented, it isn’t the cities that are critical at the moment. The hinterland that votes rojo will suffice. When things really begin to get nutty is, at least in my estimation, when they will tighten their hold on things.

    • The proponent side hasn’t been a failure, it just hasn’t been a complete success. That’s because it works well on sectors of the population, mainly those who only access state-owned media.

  6. In the long run, many habits of daily life in Venezuela render the country not very conducive to an efficient or effective fascist state. Thank god or whatever made it that way.

    • You may be absolutely correct. But possibly the Chavista leadership doesn’t care, because they will force, over time, the changes they need or
      want.

  7. I think there is an intent of hegemony out of which, like anything in Venezuela, people will find a way to by-pass out of witnessing the event, social media, word of mouth, internet, etc. The issue is the distortion of the information that also goes in line with what it is informed officially and what is ultimately kept hidden.
    The Venezuelan journalists of late have been more tangible on showing their political inclination to the point that the information they convey is perceived as biased regardless of the veracity of the information.
    It is hard to differentiate the ones supporting the government or the opposition that have hidden agendas of personal gain from the ones that are truly seeking for the quality of the information. That should not be news to anyone as the political press is in any country more or less democratic is considered the 4th power which brings the all challenges related to access of power (whatever that power may be: money, recognition, influence, etc…)
    Thus, nowadays people are less and less inclined to believe what it is said in formal communicational media and thus rely more in the social media, word of mouth etc. to satisfy their informational needs. Then the hegemony is just a mirage with very tangible wasted money.

  8. I guess most people here havent heard about gossip and how people in Venezuela love it (specially malicious gossip and anti govt gossip ) and how gossip takes the place of news if the latter is rationed or silenced , gossip-ers magnifying the little that is known and transforming it into an overblown and runaway fantasy that often makes things look lots more important that they really are . Gossip is as popular in small town as in big cities People dont like to watch boring speeches , even in the provinces , their news come fresh from the next door neighbor who knows somebody who knows somebodys friend of a second cousin to the cook who works in Miraflores . Also many Chavistas enjoy the national passtime of blaming the govt for anything that goes wrong and complaining endlessly about its shortcomings . In the past Chavez cultist might say oh the govt is bad but Chavez doenst know about it , its those arround him who are to blame . Maduro hasnt got that kind of credibility , he is a sitting duck for complaints and ‘ill considered thoughts’. Oh and did I forget to mention how people in venezuela are talkative and loud and very social and everywhere they meet they exchange news and gossip with whoever is next to them . I agree with juan that the hegemonic news control has less reach in Venezuela than it might have in a different country. Sometimes I come to my wife with some news Ive read in the internet or heard at work and find that she is far more informed than myself.!! Its part of the WEIRD curse that you think that whats important in the US or some other developed country cuts the same weight in places like Venezuela !!

    • You are correct, Radio Bemba is alive and well in Venezuela. It probably outranks TV as the favorite prime time entertainment. Hablar paja is our national sport, particularly in small communities.

      Although they would love absolute control of information, Chavistas are not even able to control what is said within their own ranks. It would not surprise me to see them turn against Maduro in a heart beat. He will be the pagapeo. He will be blamed for the collapse of the revolution. Chavistas will have a hard time accepting that the disaster that we are living is due to Chavez, but can easily blame Maduro for squandering a good thing.

  9. Well yeah, the 5-10% of the population with easy access to the internet can get a lot of information. It’s a demographic the government has no interest in. It’s the 90% of the population without it – and especially the 80-85% of the population that doesn’t read papers that they’re out to hegemonize. And boy do they!

    • Its even worse !! there is a huge number of people who even if they recieved the full information :
      1.- wont hear it because they dont want to believe it as they feel personally and gratifyingly aligned with what their social tribe or party says or because it interferes with their established view of the world .
      2.- Arent interested in it or anything outside the circle of their inmmediate interests .
      3. Even if they are interested in it , dont understand it because they lack the mental tools or education to understand it unless you simplify it into a cartoon sketch, and even then will oten miss the basic message.
      Hegemonic controls work , except maybe not with the absolute effectiveness that we might think .

    • There is simply no evidence that there are two Venezuelas, the five or ten percent that have access to Internet and the other 90% that are supposedly in the dark. These are just made-up numbers. Even if that were the case, people find out via word of mouth.

      Are there people being affected by communicational hegemony? Yes. Are these people that could potentially be swayed by the opposition? Are these people who would change their mind about the government if they found out what everyone else knows? I doubt it.

      • Juan
        With all respect: what do you expect? A case study? A IESA report? So much data is missing for so many items people would like to know about. We don’t even have a decent study about the Caracazo. The best we can have are those hated “anecdotal stories” for many things.
        We do have data about Internet speed.
        We can check out the location of access for many Venezuelan blogs – in Spanish -.
        We can find out about the location of Twitter users.
        People like me can ask several dozen relatives who live in actual Chavista territory in a couple of states outside the main cities and get an idea about what kind of information routine their neighbours have.
        I actually grew up visiting lots of relatives who had never ever bought El Nacional or El Universal, who, if at all, would buy Últimas Noticias only and who don’t even buy that any more. Some of them do have fixed lines, no mobile. I talk to them on a regular basis and try to find out what they know and it’s amazing the things they ignore. Is it just “because they don’t want to know?”. It is not that simple when someone grows up in a place and with an environment where efficient information search is really unknown of.

        Many of these people won’t be changed no matter what information they get but a lot could – if the information is properly communicated.

        • What are people who believe or half believe the govt stories about inflation and shortages being the result of a conspiracy of the Empire and rich merchants to profiteer from hiked prices, which the govt will smash acting with an iron fist going to think when, as time passes the inflation and shortages only get worse. I wager there must come a time when whatever wild story is cooked up by the govt wont get believed. Many of them if not most of them will known dissapointment and anger , the problem then will be whether they will have the chance of looking at the oppo as an option to resolve the countrries problems , for that you probably need some capacity to sell your message through the mass media , but even if mass media remains closed , how did it happen that in eastern europe people abandoned a govt which had for decades total control over all forms of information , had for decades actively attempted to brain wash the population from early youth , where all forms of free or critical expression where quashed. , during the Perez Jimenez years there was no free press and yet in one case and the other , people ultimately reasserted their sense of reality and used it to destroy the regimes that oppressed them . Its one thing when you hear stories that are not flatly and clearly contradicted by plain painful every day experience , quite another when you are smacked in the face every day with rising prices , crime growth and shortages . Somehow I feel that such experiences will take their toll on the govts credibility .!! what ever the degree of control which the regime exercises over mass media. .

          • I am continually surprised by the amount of working class folk who echo the government line and blame ongoing shortages on shopkeepers trying to make the government look bad, or hoarders, or imperial saboteurs, or whatever. It is clear to me that a not insignificant percentage of them were so polarized in the mid 2000s that they can’t even fathom entertaining anything other than the Chavista line. Their absolute connection and identification with their ‘tribe’, and their absolute hatred of the ‘other’, allows them to essentially shut off logical thinking in certain sectors. Humans, particularly uneducated ones, are a lot less logical and rational than many like to presume.

          • And I meant to add, the communicational hegemoy really helps them keep on being believers. They can look to official channels to reinforce their beliefs or help them understand the latest debacle, and are not forced to deal with ‘unpleasant truths’ or face the utter emptiness of their arguments.

          • Sure. On the maternal side I still have a Chavista aunt who is beyond any recovery (but she is senile now) and two “former” chavista aunt and uncle…but they are rather ninis now. I have talked to them time after time recently and even though they don’t like Chavismo anymore, they believe all that crap about the sabotage (so, it’s all about a war of incompetent & bad against evil).
            They still watch this Walter character from VTV for their foreign news. Go figure!

  10. The thing is that you don’t have to be absolute to be successful. Hegemonic information is much more abundant and easier to find. I don’t think the point of hegemony is to hide the bad stuff, but rather to create one single narrative in people’s head. Guerra económica, no volverán, Chávez es genial, Capriles es facho, etc. They just need chavista “logic” and rhetoric to be overwhelming. And they know that us political junkies won’t be convinced, nor traditional paper readers, they go after the large majority of the population who is too busy making it through daily life and who receives information much more passively. As Maduro’s incompetence increases, the rhetoric is going to be more towards ellos son, y fueron, peores.

  11. The goal is to control enough information to keep the opposition from reaching critical mass to boil over and unseat Chavizmo one way or another. So far it seems to be working well enough for that. You don’t need North Korean level of control to destroy democracy.

      • In some cities, the State is the biggest employer, which explains voting patterns.

        A chavista would call having the spectre of the Tascón List pushing results at the ballots a victory. And they call everybody else fascists, HAH!

    • Both my parents live in El Tigre. I received a very strange message from my mom today. A message of the “if anything happens…” type. She’s usually angry, extremely frustrated about the country’s situation. But this time the message was all fear. I was concerned and I called her. As I talked to her, I realized her current feeling is anguish, derived from the fact that she feels incommunicated, isolated. “I do read things in the social network, but everything is delayed and you don’t know what to believe”. Her main concern is that she loses contact with me (living in Spain), which she now feels as very plausible.

      My parents are no political experts. They don’t have special info or clear insights on what may happen. What I learned today is how being disconnected from mass media outlets that broadcast dissident views has an intense psychological impact on people. It’s not just that they don’t know what is going on in, say, Valencia (where some relatives live); but that they get paranoid about what could be happening. And I learned it through my mom and I got really worried.

      Sorry about the english and the sappy tone. Todavía ando con el cuerpo raro.

  12. An article on this week’s Economist mentions Venezuelan officials taking part on “government PR” courses offered by… the People’s Republic of China (“Learning to spin”, econ.st/1iAxhuj). Even if the Chinese government has a broader, tighter grip on the local media than Maduro & Co do, they seem to find the press important (and dangerous) enough to justify spending time and money on teaching lowlier officials how to adequately deal with pesky journalists.

    I reckon there can’t be such thing as absolute communicational hegemony in a society -like Venezuela, or China, or most countries nowadays bar North Korea- which has wholeheartedly embraced social media, and where there will always be someone around with a Blackberry, ready to document official shenanigans.

  13. The vast majority of voters act on partial information and signals from those they recognize as better informed and leaders.

    The chavernment enjoys hegemony in two critical areas of such signalling.

    First the mass media. The chavernment does not have a total embargo on information it wants suppressed, but it prevents this information from being widely and easily distributed. People don’t hear about the bad news – they don’t even know there is bad news to hear about. In most cases, they could find out the bad news by special effort – but they don’t make the effort because they have other things to do.

    And that’s where the second level of hegemony comes in. The chavernment has the support of a large bloc of “the chattering class”. This class includes a large fraction of “reformers” – the people who normally fight for honesty in government, freedom, and rule of law. They (again normally) hold these values above partisan issues, such as economic policy. Normally (again) when this group sees egregious dishonesty and tyranny, they signal it – and the general public follows their lead, condemning the crooks and tyrants, who get driven from power. The details of the malfeasance get reported in the mass media, confirming the general signal, though most of the public doesn’t read the fine print.

    In Venezuela, this faction has chosen partisan loyalty to chavismo over honesty and rule of law. Their excuse is that previous regimes were corrupt. They refuse to signal that there is anything wrong. At the same time, the chavernment muffles signaling by anyone else, and drives the embargoed information deeper into the fine print.

    This prevents hostility to the regime from achieving “critical mass”.

    That’s the analogy I wanted! When the damping rods are inserted in a nuclear reactor, the unstable atoms still decay, and fissions sometimes still trigger additional fissions, but the rods prevent the reaction from growing.

    That’s what the comm hegemony does.

    • In Venezuela people dont just hear about the bad news , they live it on an every day basis , Shortages , inflation and crime have never been more present in peoples lives as they are now , the contrast between past and present is glaring . The capacity for concealment of this kind of news is very limited because it bites the public hard and personally on their ass . If you are fanatized into believing anything the govt says then whatever news you make public isnt goint reach inside their ideologically shriveled minds , but others are not so easily taken in , they get the irrefutable message ” before better, awful now” , they connect the dots , they are largely predisposed to believe any govts message is slanted and falsified in its favour, Just get into any of the interminable omnipresent queues that now have become part of everyday life and hear people speak. they not only ‘get’ whats happening , they are angry, not buying any of the govts silly excuses !!.Again the hegemonic control over media messages is a weapon for the govt , but its is not nearly as effective as we might think . At least half the country not only knows that the bad times we live are the result of the govts failures and corruption but they are angry about it . another part goes along because they are cowed into going along so as not to get into trouble in their jobs or lose their small govt hand outs or simply are careful about getting into the wrong side of such ruthless govt , the number of people who are unconditionally happy with the govt will go down as the miseries and shortages prolongue themselves and become more and more biting. Comm hegemony of the worst kind existed in the soviet union and its sphere of influence for decades , the regimes also tried to brains wash people with propaganda which reached all levels of social life and yet in the end all those efforts failed !! Popular discontent is the govts achilles heal , its what destroys their already frayed and thining claim to legitimacy !! more importantly even if we dont see it clearly now , its has consequences. !! . .

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